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Organizing Computer Gear Clutter? 93

slashyslashy asks: "At first I had only a PC and a printer. Now the home network setup has grown to consist of many units: linksys router, ASDL modem, Vonage VOIP terminal, linksys NSLU2 network storage device, and couple of external harddrives. Powering all these units is done with three Belkin 6-Outlet Surge Protectors all connected to 1 wall outlet. Currently all of these units are stacked under the table, causing their wires and cables criss-cross each other. Troubleshooting any single unit is a mess. How do other Slashdot readers organize their home computer gear? Any ideas on cheap solutions ($100) to manage this clutter?"
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Organizing Computer Gear Clutter?

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  • Two cheap solutions (Score:2, Informative)

    by COBOL/MVS ( 196516 )
    1. Cable ties

    2. Masking tape to label the cables in the ties.

    You can get cable ties anywhere (Lowe's, Home depot).
    • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:33PM (#13048155)

      I'd recommend against cable ties unless you're making an attachment you know you won't have to move anytime soon...otherwise, you waste too many cable ties cutting things loose. A better solution for more temporary attachments is double-sided velcro...comes on a roll, you can cut pieces to need.
      • That's what I use. It is plenty permanent enough. I haven't had it come off accidentally. More expensive than cable ties, but a lot more convenient, and it holds just fine.
      • Cable ties are like $5 for a pack of 100. Since you won't be using 100 ties, you'll have plenty of ties left should you have to cut things loose. And if you do run out of ties, it's only $5 for another 100.
      • by threephaseboy ( 215589 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @08:05PM (#13049446) Homepage
        Releasable Cable Ties 100 Bag $4.79 [buycableties.com] I get them from Wierdstuff in San Jose for about $2.50/bag. I use them for organising cables as well as on frequently used cables on the shelf. Long-term cables that come out mabye once a year or less get normal zip ties.

        • Cool...I had no idea you could get the releasable ones so cheaply...thanks for the info. =)
        • These also work well for other non-computer related things. For instance, I use one on my iron (yes, I actually iron my shirts!) so the cord can be neatly tucked out of the way without having to wrap it around the handle a bazillion times.
        • The BIGGEST problem with releasable ties is that the ends stick out and leave things sloppy - at least for "semi fixed" installs - don't be cheap, cut the ends off, and use new ties when you re-bundle, unless it's an almost every day thing

          I DO like releasable ties for things like spooling up audio, video and LAN cables for storage - like the ones that go in my field bag - they come out, get unspooled, used, and then wrapped back up, and put away, usually in a few hours - also great for extention cords
          • Thats what I mainly use them for, holding audio cables together. Better than velcro, and cheaper to boot.
            • Yep - they work GREAT for that - first learned about releasable ties working for my college TV station, oh, 20+ years ago

              That said, I've almost totally switched to "12 cord" type lacing cord - carry a roll of it with you (or even a partial roll) and you can make "any size" lacing you want, from tiny - 2-3 wires, to HUGE, plus you can tie things up and the like. Last roll I got cost me $4 or so, and should last me the rest of my life. I go through a roll ever 10-20 years, and I have 6 rolls Just cut, an
      • And for the cheap of us, the things that they wrap grape vines in in supermarkets work just as well, they are usually green strips of fabric that *magically* stick to themselves when wrapped around something [such as a wire].
      • You can now get a roll of 50 Velcro cable ties. I think Home Depot is carrying them for about $5, they're great! Part # 90924 [velcro.com], I think.

      • What we ended up using was reuseable cable ties. Looks like a cable tie but on one side there is a leaver that pulls up so you can pull the cable back out.

        Velcro is ok but we found it to bulky.
      • Another option (Score:3, Informative)

        by Andy Dodd ( 701 )
        The twisty ties used to seal some plastic bags. Available at any supermarket.
      • Cable ties are cheap enough that you just pull out a pair of dikes and cut them - they are disposable

        I personally use lacing cord, and cut that, but I'm strange, and know how to use lacing cord
    • The glue in Masking Tape gets really messy after a few months/years, it's really not a good solution for long-term labling.
      • Depends on the tape you use. I used some off a roll of 3M about 10 years ago for my stereo and they haven't caused me any trouble.
      • I had a boss who used masking tape to bind wires to the overhead framework since it drove his boss up the frigging wall because of the residual that's left behind. (But, hey, take a guess who had to clean that crap up and use plastic ties? Yup, me, the fat college boy who's afraid of heights.) My boss's boss would get back at him by coming in with a piece of bubble wrap and jumping on it until all the bubbles are popped since that drove my boss underneath the desk.

        I missed my college work years when the
    • Definetly Cable Ties, Lots, Lots & Lots Of Cable Ties (I Recently Found Some Re-useable ones That WOrk Wonderful)
    • Ack, not masking tape! Get some sort of proper tagging solution instead. You'll have masking tape gooze on your cables forever if you leave it on there for a while, not to mention the tape will eventually become brittle and your helpful labels will just crack off and fall to the floor the first time you bump them.
  • Well i can't help with the main problem, since i find any attempt to tidy up just makes things harder to get to, but i'll suggest something: check the total power draw on those devices, you may be running too much off one socket. (offically you aren't supposed to chain 4-ways, although everyone does). if possible, i'd take a lead to another.

    • I put in a dedicated 30-amp outlet for my rack at home...I'd strongly recommend it.

      Also, get yourself a UPS to condition the power further before it gets to your systems.
    • Actually, most "surge protector" type power-strips have a circuit-breaker built in, rated in most cases for far -less- than the circuit the outlet is on. Case in point, I tripped the breaker in mine by plugging a vacuum cleaner into it, but if I plugged it into another outlet on the same circuit, it didn't trip the main breaker. Note that this breaker is resettable, and isn't the "surge protection" part, which is essentially a fast-burn fuse.
    • My friends and I hold LAN parties frequently in our own homes, and have found that one can usually fit 4-5 computers/monitors on one socket. Only when you start putting more on do you sometimes run into problems.

      He should be fine.
  • My solution (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:18PM (#13048041)

    Here's the solution I've come up with...hope this helps...

    I purchased a cheap wire shelfabout 18x36, 2 shelves. I attached pulleys to the top of the shelf, and attached two smooth metal rods to the ceiling for the pulleys to ride on. All my systems are on the bottom shelf, all routers, switches, modems, access points, etc. are on the top shelf. Power strips are zip-tied directly to the shelf, powered by a UPS on the floor. Any unit can be taken off the shelf and placed on the workbench without disconnecting any cables. The entire shelf can be pulled out to allow easy access to the rear of the units, or pushed right up against the wall to to conserve space. And because all components are well off the ground, I don't have to worry about flooding (an occasional hazard in my basement) or excess dust accumulation inside the cases (I have two cats).
    • Sounds cool. Have any pics of this?

      • Actually, no...until I saw this story posted, I never thought twice about my setup. I'll see if I can take some pictures of it tonight.
    • Re:My solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Shag ( 3737 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:49PM (#13048317)
      Yeah, wire shelving is pretty cool. Last time my wife was away at college, she had some like this [metro.com], and it's now been integrated into our bedroom. It's rated for some obscene amount of weight per shelf, and of course since the shelves aren't solid cables can be run anywhere, there's good airflow, etc.

      As far as the sheer quantity of stuff... ours is kind of distributed. The DSL modem, switch/wireless router, VOIP box, etc. live by a phone line demarc I've set up in the center of the basement, with one Linux box down there as a "server" of sorts. Then there are a couple laptops that roam around on wireless, and my kid's computer is connected via a 50' cat5 cable.

      At the shelf that serves as my "desk" I've got a 7-space plug strip, which typically has three to six spaces open.

      • Yeah, wire shelving is pretty cool.

        No, wire shelving is hot. Like hot with live electricity, if you have a badly grounded case sitting on a metal wire shelf. Metal shelving is unsuitable for electronics, unless you're using proper rackmount equipment with proper electrical wiring.

        • Most wire shelving available these days (such as the shelving I use) is coated...no bare metal.
        • My God...

          Who really has "a badly grounded case" sitting anywhere????
          That is not good for you, or your electronics. Wow.
          • Who really has "a badly grounded case" sitting anywhere????

            When the power supply goes bad? I've touched a few when bringing old systems up to spec at one company. Sometimes the computer is still working, sometimes not. Although not as interesting as a hard drive logic board blowing up and catching on fire. ;)
            • Good point, I stand (sit) corrected...
              I have never been lucky enough to witness the hard drive board catching on fire, but it doesn't sound fun!
        • Well, gosh.

          I guess I just have to be really good that all the equipment I use has proper electrical wiring.

          But yes... for those of you who're building your own system and have bare wires sticking out, I'd agree with the recommendation of non-conductive shelving. And insulated soles.
  • Network stuff. (Score:4, Informative)

    by saintlupus ( 227599 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:19PM (#13048065) Homepage
    When I lived in an apartment, I contained a lot of the network clutter in a milk crate. Get a milk crate and a bunch of cable ties from a hardware store.

    Zip tie one of your surge strips inside of the milk crate, along with your router and your cable modem. All on different sides. Hook them all up together and use more zip ties to bundle up the cables between them.

    Now put the milk crate on the floor, with the open side down, and stack more stuff on top of it. This means you not only get rid of the desk clutter from your cable modem and router, but you now have a printer stand as well. And a couple of headless boxes can get put there, too.

    Here's my old setup.

    http://www.roadflares.org/hardware/images/blueandy ellow.jpg [roadflares.org]

    Worked well.

    --saint

  • I tend to like Gorilla Racks a lot. They are solidly built and should last forever. Might clash with the living room decor though.

    http://www.gorillarack.com/ [gorillarack.com]
    • As long as using racks AND not paying an arm and leg for them, have a look at a MIDI rack at your biggest local music store.

      They come the same size as the computer racks, costs half the price, are even available second hand...

      Yes you will need to buy rackable enclosures for you pcs, but everything computer will be in the same enclosure....

      Then go the platic tie and tag everything...

      • If you're like me, you've probably done this before.

        You just get done plastic tying everything in your rack, and something breaks.

        You decide to replace a system, or get a new KVM, which seriously throws off your cabling. Then you get the joy of cutting off all the tie wraps.

        A hint from me - if you want to keep your wires out of your way, but are always messing with things, use velcro strips. At work we have these "rolls" of velcro that are very handy - 3M makes them. The ones I use at home are "surplu
    • I love my Gorilla Rack workbench. Hard to find a better workbench for $99 [northerntool.com]. Mine was American made, which is rare these days.

      Home Depot sells a similar workbench for $150, and it's crap. Sharp corners, sharp sheet-metal. Ouch!

      When I got the workbench, I was a missing part (Orchard Supply's fault, not Gorilla Rack). I didn't know what it looked like but they worked with me to figure it out. Gorilla Rack's customer support was fast, helpful & courteous-- I was really amazed considering this is just a wo
    • I put one of these in my new server room at work.

      Very solid construction and not too expensive.

    • second that. Great racks.
  • Easy tips (Score:4, Informative)

    by delus10n0 ( 524126 ) <delusion_NO@SPAMpdsys.org> on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:23PM (#13048087) Homepage
    * Label your power cords for what brand, model and possibly power draw.

    * Use zip ties or velcro ties to "bundle" cables that can be bundled (power cables, for instance.) Don't bundle cables that could potentially cause crosstalk/noise (ie, no audio cables running next to your power.)

    * "Hang" cables and route them with slack, with regards to servicing or pulling out the devices. In general, you should have enough slack to pull out and examine the back of a device without having to unplug it beforehand.

    * Another poster said this, but don't overload power sockets; if necessary, route another powerstrip to a second socket. Or look into a UPS/true power solution.
    • Re:Easy tips (Score:3, Informative)

      by gregmac ( 629064 )
      * Use zip ties or velcro ties to "bundle" cables that can be bundled (power cables, for instance.)

      Zip ties are great, but they can also be a pain in the ..

      If you zip tie, remember two things: be prepared to cut and retie when you change things, and leave enough space so you WILL re-tie.

      I did have our entertainment center all ziptied at one point, and it was great. Then as we moved things around (oh, new satellite receiver... hey, lets hook up the computer.. oh, plug in this ipod to play mp3s) we ended u
  • In my experience, organizing wires with zip ties and so forth is just as bad as no organization. Every time I make a change I either get frustrated at having to undo the zip ties, or I get frustrated at having to untangle wires. Therefore, adding the zip ties was a waste of time.
  • What I did.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Atrax ( 249401 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @05:27PM (#13048122) Homepage Journal
    ... was to just get rid of a lot of equipment. Some was sold, some thrown away, some stuff is boxed up in case I ever need it again.

    I sold off a couple of desktop machines and consolidated one good one, shifted a file server off into another room, went wireless where I could (though I've since rewired the main desktop box for network) and generally tried to cut down on clutter (like unplugging some rarely-used peripherals such as joystick, drawing tablet etc, getting a wireless keyboard and mouse with a decent battery charger).

    I also fixed two powerboards and a network switch to the underside of my main desk, and shortened some cable runs so the cables were up off the floor. The long cables now serve a more useful purpose with my guitar and bass amps.

    Turns out I'm a lot better off, though the clutter is inevitably going to build up again.

    Oh, and I also rely more on my laptops than I used to, which is a factor in cutting down on the static hardware, I suppose

    • I was about to post the answer "a bin", but it looks like you beat me to it...

      Seriously, I always smile when I hear about geeks with five home computers in their study, seventeen kinds of connectivity to each one, and so on. I mean, how many different boxen can you type on at once, anyway?!

      I think a lot of people overlook simple ways to keep things tidy that have quietly appeared recently. For example:

      • USB keyboards and mice can be plugged into the hub found on many monitors, or into the front of many
  • Like this [mac.com] of course. :-P

    (Yes, this is my real set-up: 3 Mac Minis (2 running Linux), MGE UPS, and a bunch or other small stuff.)

  • I have no affiliation with the catalog, other than being on the mailing list.

    To get cords in a small area
    http://www.improvementscatalog.com/product.asp?pro duct=198800zz&dept_id=13160 [improvementscatalog.com]

    Help with all the transformers
    http://www.improvementscatalog.com/Parent.asp?prod uct=238359x&dept_id=1 [improvementscatalog.com]
    • I use similar stuff, from Radio Shack. It's black cable wrap. It's like $5 for 10ft. It's easy to use in short strips every 3-4 feet on multiple cables. Everything starting in on place, and ending in the same place will end up acting just like one cable.

      I've never been a big fan of the long tubing ones. I use this technique on all of my KVM cables. So the three cables act like one. It's pretty slick.

      For cables that are more like to change, I use velcro wraps available at any Office Depot or Offi

    • A great idea for combined cable runs is to go to a homedepot type store and buy a piece of sump-pump hose (same thing as shop-vac hose but without the extra cost). Take it and slit it down the side and cut it to length. You can stick all of hte cables inside at any point and they can exit at any point. I have a 4ft piece with almost every cable for one of my systems in it and I am still able to selectively remove cables from the mix.
  • For the computer and A/V equipment, I nabbed a 19" rack, some rackmount cases and a few shelves. I got them from Tiger Direct, IIRC... many many years ago when they were a bit more reputable and Computer Shopper was larger than a metro area phone book.

    For under the desk, I have a vinyl storm gutter attached with L brackets along the inside back. Push the cables up over the far side (it sags a bit open on that side, so you can loop them up over your desk. I just moved, so I'm in the process of building n

  • I salvaged a piece of plywood and started screwing stuff to it: powerstrips, etherswitches, dsl-modem, access point, etc. Most of the stuff you can drill a hole through if you choose wisely, but for some I used c-clamps. The board sits vertically which helps ventilation and sits nicely behind the desk.

    At the very least screw your powerstrip to the back or underside of your desk. If you are not allowed to drill, use a c-clamp.

  • I did a little thinking and came up with this [ebay.com].

    Seriously, I used to be into doing stuff with computers because I COULD. It was a great experience to play with Linux and BSD on lots of crappy, obsolete systems and would encourage all high school and early-college aged kids to do so (while making time for socialization).

    Now I have access to all the exotic UNIX hardware I could ever care to use. I threw out everything, got a powerbook and have never been happier.

    When I want to have fun tinkering, I code

  • I use the twist ties left over from a package of trash bags. Personally, I find they do a terrible job of holding the bag closed and just tying a knot in the plastic does it much better. They're great for tying cables though. Tie back all the cables so they're just a little longer than "long-enough" (so you can shift things around). They're easy to remove and a little creativity goes a long way. For instance, thread one around two pushpins and use the resulting tie to hold wires in place against the ba
  • Get a wife (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    That's bound to ensure that clutter is kept down to a reasonable level.
  • by vbrtrmn ( 62760 )
    I rackmounted.

    I found a 1/3 rack in a trash can (actually I have a full rack in my back-yard, not used .. yet). Converted my main two computers from standard ATX cases to rackmountable cases. I picked up a rackmountable switch. I have a rackmountable UPS waiting to be setup. Most of the cables hang-out in the rack box.
    Though a bunch of them are under the desk: Monitor cables, various KVM cables, etc.
    I also mounted a lifting door to the top of the rack, so I could get to the inside fairly easily. Thou
  • For smaller stuff like that, I stack them on in/out box trays like this [staples.com] and run the wiring out the back. For larger stuff like systems, I use wire shelving like this [metro.com]. You can adjust the shelves to fit towers or rack-mount size boxes. Or at least, that's what I used to do. Now I have exactly one desktop with a UPS. The cable modem and WAP/router are hidden in the entertainment center.
  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday July 12, 2005 @08:56PM (#13049770) Homepage
    Do not - no matter how much your wife/Felix/boyfriend/whatever nags you about the clutter - zip-tie, twist-tie, or otherwise tightly bundle your cables together to make them more tidy and less unsightly.

    Yes, they will look better with a "cable management system" of that sort in place... until one of the cables goes bad, or you need to plug one of the devices into a different power outlet, etc. At that point you will curse - using words your grandfather never even heard during his time in the Navy - the day that your wife/Felix/boyfriend/whatever was born, and the day you met said individual, and your stupidity for listening to them.

    Seriously, the key to keeping a web of cables "manageable" is to keep the individual strands apart. Put as much daylight between them as you can, and as much slack in them as geometry allows. It may not be as pretty as a bundle of cables wrapped by a tight plastic helix or hidden away in an enclosed track, but neither is a domestic murder-suicide incited by frustration over constrictive cable management. (Or so I've heard.)

  • I use 3M Foam Tape everywhere, it is the most useful wire-control device I ever found. You can use the double-sided tape to stick devices together (I taped my speakers to my monitor, I taped all my little routers to the wall, etc etc) and it is a really strong bond. You can also use just one side of the tape (don't peel off the other side of the tape) and it makes a really strong cable hold-down. It also comes off pretty cleanly. Foam Tape helps organize both your stray hardware boxes and the cables too.
  • step 1: sell everything
    step 2: take all that money and buy 1 killer machine
    step 3: Go here [vmware.com]
  • What is this organize you speak of? I am unfamilar with the term. Honestly, cable ties are hard to remove if you need to move stuff around. Someone must sell these little velco "cable-ties" that APC gives away with some of their gear. I have a bunch and they work really well. They are basically a strip of velco with the hooks on one side and the loops on the other. You can probably make your own.
  • I took my linksys wireless router, ASDL modem, Vonage VOIP, a hub and a surge protector and mounted them on all on 2'x4' piece of 1/2" plywood screwed to the wall in the basement.

    Then I used a bunch of 1'-3' ethernet cables to connect the whole mess together.

    There's a 650VA APC UPS sitting on a shelf just below it which helps power the whole thing.

    Oh yeah, and I bought a Leviton wiring distribution panel to distribute teh ethernet and phone over the CAT5 jacks in my house.

    The NSLU2... well it's a piece
  • Tower of Devices (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Schlaegel ( 28073 )
    I made an nice looking vertical tower of devices.

    I got a reasonably long piece of 1x4 inch board in a wood that matches my desk.

    I then mounted my UPS on one side (the "back") of the board and mounted all of my other devices on the other side (the "front") of the board. The devices were stacked vertically and had their power cords immediately routed to the back of the board so that only the devices are visible. I mounted the devices to the board by screwing wood screws just under the device and then using
  • I have a large number of wall warts that power rechargers and other devices. I picked up a 4 foot power strip from Frys and mounted on the wall over a shelf. The devices sit on the shelf powered by the power strip above.
  • Get some wiring duct or raceway. It's compact, easy to use and looks good. I use stuff from Panduit [panduit.com], but I'm sure other people make it too.
  • There are three things that one can do to reduce clutter (these are not my ideas, but I incorporate them in my life as best as possible). They are in no particular order. For all clutter or "projects" that you have to complete:

    1. Hire it out
    2. Throw it out
    3. Or do it yourself

    Let's say you're not doing number 1 (but if you are there's professional organizers out there who will be happy to have your business). Work on number 2 and 3, which means you first try to consolidate all your equipment. Really think
  • A new one will cost more than $100 but a TV cabinet is what I use. You have to get one where the compartment where the monitor goes is at the right height. The bottom compartment is where the rest of the equipment goes. I ended up getting one of those distressed, faux antique dressers so I had to drill a couple of holes in the back. It easily stores three PCs, router/firewall, KVM switch, 19 inch monitor, and speakers for everyone.

    With the doors open, you're staring at a data closet. With the doors clos

  • You could try the Cable Turtle [cableorganizer.com].

    For longer distance things you could use spiral wraps [cableorganizer.com].

    And another cool product would be the cord caddy [cableorganizer.com].

    Have fun organizing!
  • Well, everyone has been talking about zip ties this, and velcro straps that, and reusable or not... I long ago figured a far tidier, and aesthetically infinitely more pleasing solution to the Medusa's hair of cables that plagued my workspaces:

    Rubber Hoses.

    ...and that's it. Buy couple of rubber water hoses in colors of your choice, making sure diameters are sufficient for your needs, and slit them open lengthwise. Then simply array the cables within the tubes. if you're overloading your tubes, zip-tie th

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